Asked by a reporter if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Congressman Todd Akin replied with his now infamous quote:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
In those few sentences Congressman Akin managed to offend in not just one but three very different ways:
- He implies that there are legitimate and non-legitimate rapes.
- He claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.
- He doesn't seem to emphasize punishment.
And while most of the political world was quick to shun him, with even his closest allies calling for him to drop his bid for re-election, I can't help but feel annoyed by the mindlessly reactionary responses. I'm no friend to Republicans, I disagree with most of the claimed conservative values, but I am no more a friend to the Democrats and progressives when they seem unable to look at things rationally and instead seek refuge behind politically correct positions and chants.
I don't think most congressmen belong in congress, and I see no reason to think any differently of Congressman Akin, but that doesn't mean I find his statements worse than they are.
Let's take a look at Congressman Akin's offenses in turn.
Congressman Akin's statement about legitimate rapes does certainly imply there must exist illegitimate rapes. Most of the furor surrounding this quote seems to rest on this point. But while I understand that his statement could suggest the disgustingly archaic viewpoint that women invite, allow, or invent almost all of the sexual assault they report, it seems far more reasonable to imagine he meant only to exclude those who fit this last criteria. A congressman could make a statement like, "If it's a legitimate robbery then this bill will force the insurance companies to pay up." without anyone getting even remotely upset. It acknowledges the existence of the same phenomena, false reporting of a crime. His poorly phrased statement seems to be trying to address his response at the (majority of) cases where rape was not falsely claimed.
The reality is that some percentage of all reported crimes are wholly false, the alleged criminal act did not occur at all. The heinous crime of rape is not immune to this deceit. A few studies have been done to try to determine what percentage of rapes are false but to date there are no universally accepted statistics. Frequently mentioned statistics seem to range anywhere from 2% to 12%. The most common figure I've seen on sites supporting women's causes is roughly 6%. The Violence Against Women journal included a study based on a thorough review of college rape investigations and puts the number of false allegations at 5.9%, as mentioned in this blog entry of the title False Rape Allegations Are Rare. I've seen many quotes from people on the left saying exactly the same thing, that false claims of rape are "rare". "Rare" is the key word here, as they are applying it to something which they agree happens roughly 6% of the time.
The phrase "illegitimate rape" should clearly never be uttered because it offends and is taken with historical context to de-legitimize those who have been raped. But we must as honest men and women acknowledge that a small percentage of rape claims are not true, and must allow others to acknowledge this fact as well, and be able to refer to them in discussion, even when it involves charged topics like abortion. We cannot simply shout down our adversaries for poor phraseology, those are the chief argumentation tactics of the Rush Limbaughs and the Howard Sterms.
As an aside, I was stunned when I first learned that ~6% of rape accusations were wholly false. The figure is touted by women as a positive, as though the number was impressively low, which is likely because of the historical context of the public apparently believing that most rape allegations are false. But I grew up assuming that 99.9% of rape allegations were true, not comprehending that anyone could or would make up such a thing, and so for me to discover that 6% were false was shocking and vastly more than I would have ever imagined.
Pregnancies from Rapes are Rare
Congressman Akin's claim that women's bodies have some mechanism by which it can prevent unwanted fertilization of an egg is not supported by science or medicine. While many wish to see it as an evil statement, born of a desire to blame the woman should she become pregnant, such an explanation is not required. It may be plain but unremarkable ignorance.
What I find most infuriating about the anger at Todd Akin is that it suggests that all those condemning him know so very much better, and I am very sure most of them do not! Those pillorying him may assume better, may have guessed better, or may just know better how to toe the politically correct party line, but very likely most of them are no more scientifically or medically informed or grounded.
Considering first exactly what he said we find rank hypocrisy coming from many of his accusers. His claim (leaving out for a moment his incorrect explanation) is that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare. And in that he is correct if we use the definition of "rare" that all those who are most vitriolic towards Akin are. Various studies have strongly suggested that 5 - 8% of women who are raped become pregnant as a result. If we consider that many advocates for women argue that false rape accusations are rare at 6% then surely we would expect them to consider pregnancy as a result of pregnancy at 5-8% to be a similarly rare occurrence. If they did, however, this aspect of Congressman Akin's comment would not be worth mentioning. To have useful discussions and dialogue we must be consistent in our use and interpretation of language, to make language or math political is idiocy.
But let's look at his erroneous explanation of why pregnancy from rape is rare. Taken at its core his statement requires that women are less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape than consensual sex. On this point he seems proven entirely wrong, studies have only suggested the opposite. But his (and others') expectation that rape would be less likely to produce pregnancy is easily explained, logical, and almost certainly the common belief until recent studies began to show otherwise. There are many objective reasons to suspect rape would be less likely to result in pregnancy. I am sure most of his attackers are no better read on the available studies than he was. As such, lets consider not his logic, which apparently depended on only one particular doctor's viewpoint, but on the overall expectation which exists to draft most people's expectations. Included in these facts:
- Rapists often do not ejaculate. While exact numbers are hard to come by I saw some things which said that only 10% of the time was semen recoverable from rape victims, meaning the attacker did not ejaculate, withdrew before ejaculating, or wore a condom.
- Rapists use condoms as often as 10-15% of the time.
- Stress is widely believed to increase miscarriages and many have assumed stress hormones would interfere with conception, implantation, and fetal development. Rape marks the beginning of a long and horribly stressful journey back to any sort of normal.
- Rape is (generally) a single event, relatively short in duration, whereas consensual sex is more likely to be prolonged and repeated.
Taking just the above objective facts a reasonable person would conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape should occur much less often than from consensual un-protected intercourse. And if we know that the average likelihood that a woman will become pregnant as a result of unprotected consensual sex is 5% then surely many reasonable people would estimate a rape would result in pregnancy at a rate one order of magnitude less than with consensual sex.
That "reasonable" guesstimate happens to be wrong, as has been established in studies, but the conclusion was not the result of stupidity. There were, however, some key factors that were overlooked:
- Rapists more often prey on victims during their most fertile years, so the overall rate of pregnancy from one incident of intercourse within that age range is higher than 5%, making pregnancy from rape also higher.
- Unknown evolutionary forces might be at play giving aggressive males an advantage at fertilizing women. This is wildly speculative, but has been offered as one possible explanation for what otherwise seems unexpected. No studies I'm aware of support this as yet.
I don't want to discourage people from trying to understand the world in which they live using the facts available to them. We should not call the conclusions people come to nor the people themselves "stupid" as a result of a genuine attempt to figure things out as best they can. People are only stupid when they choose to ignore facts which might have otherwise altered their positions.
Todd Akin is no more nor less intelligent than most of his detractors, no more or better informed. We must be able to present him with new evidence and only deem him worthy of contempt if he fails to update his view based on superior evidence.
Punishing the Rapists
When I heard the offensive quote what offended me the most was in fact the last part of the oft repeated quote. He seems to show so little interest in the prosecution of the guilty. "I think there should be some punishment..." sounds so anemic, as though he feels forced to grudgingly acknowledge some mild punishment is expected. His statement is something I'd expect a disinterested father saying to a supermarket cashier after his child was caught with a pack of gum he didn't pay for. If I were of a mind to be outraged by my interpretation of the first part of his quote then this line would absolutely be the nail in the coffin for me. Not only does he seem to think many victims deserved what happened to them, not only does he not acknowledge the problem of further traumatizing victims and populating the planet with children born from violence, but he proves he doesn't think it's a real crime by barely conceding that any punishment is warranted. I likely am reading way too much into this portion of his statement, but in part that's my point. Others who found this quote offensive were apparently willing to give this part of his statement a pass, assuming he really meant something different, or at that this wasn't the worst of what he said, when for me it was. I have yet to hear anyone even mention this part of the quote in the discussion.
Rape is in no way to be tolerated, and I cannot fathom how our legal system permits the freeing of those who are found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, etc. In my view, society should be forever protected from people who have demonstrated certain criminal tendencies. Having felt the intense violation and fear that comes from being a victim of far lesser crimes, I can only begin to dimly imagine the horror one might feel as a result of this sort of sexual assault. I do not support Todd Akin or anyone espousing archaic views about women, sexuality, gender, etc. I just want to ensure that all of us can communicate about these topics, can freely discuss them without the ignorant, knee-jerk politics or political correctness that only entrenches people further in their ignorance. Only through that openness is there any hope for them or for us.
It surprises me the degree to which so many people seem to insist on an irrational parity between races, genders, suffering, achievements, etc. Parity is rare. How likely is it that any two things in the same class are equal? Most commonly identically classed things have a unique and subtle tendencies across their group which make them, in sum, noticeably different while being in each incarnation able to exceed the other. But that's not the reality people seem to like, it's not the one most people, particularly those who tow the politically correct line, seem to acknowledge. And I'm forever surprised by this ridiculous falsehood of parity.
Yesterday all over the news was a blog post made to Psychology Today by one of their unsolicited writers revealing his "study" proving Black Women are Less Attractive than Whites, Asians, and Native Americans. The blog post included a number of graphs, claimed research over a seven year period, and having supposedly excluded body mass index (BMI) theorized that black women were less attractive because they had more testosterone which made their features less appealing. If you're a student of the world you won't be surprised to learn that Satoshi Kanazawa's "study" was met with disgust, shock, anger, and his post was quickly removed by Psychology Today. But what surprised me in the response, what always surprises me in responses to these sorts of situations, was the refusal to refute (or even discuss) the actual subject matter. The party line seems to be, "All races are equally beautiful. Any attempt to suggest any one race [particularly a minority] is less attractive is racism." Now let me be clear, Satoshi Kanazawa's blog post is not a study; it is missing just about everything one would expect to find in a serious, rigorous academic examination of the topic. Opinions he says he has captured and explanations he has offered for them are, without further evidence and details, wholly unconvincing. But, most who condemn him don't know this or care about this. Most people were just deeply offended by the idea. But, surely the idea must be true, on some level. The idea being not that black women are less attractive than women of other races, but that people (and therefore the society to which they sum) have attractiveness preferences, which are often (if unconsciously) racially based. The true reality of societal attractiveness and therefore racial preferences I don't know and wouldn't dare to hazard a guess, but I am sure society has them. And why on earth would we be surprised? And why on earth would we deny it. For many the refusal to consider the topic seems to stem from a belief that the question is fundamentally flawed or otherwise invalid. You see lots of comments in response, "What is beauty?" "How can one measure attractiveness?" "He's trying to compare apples to oranges." And those arguments are fine things, but they are ultimately nonsense, because they require us to believe that the world's behavior doesn't depend on the real answer to Kanazawa's real question ("How does attractiveness rank by race/gender?"). If you've lived any amount of years you've surely figured out that people's perception of another's beauty matters quite a lot. Beautiful people have a social advantage over their homelier but otherwise identically schooled, motivated, gifted friends and coworkers; and this social advantage can be an advantage in business as well, though also sometimes a detriment. So understanding attractiveness preferences is useful: to understand, compete, and combat the inequities. And inequities are everywhere, and nothing to focus on lamenting. Surely no one would be much surprised by studies indicating female preferences against shortness, against balding, against... Each individual should be and largely is seen as an individual, the sum of his or her particular merits. Tom Cruise is short but has enjoyed the adoration of millions. Bruce Willis is bald yet continues to enjoy the adoration of millions. So why then the surprise and fury that preferences might correlate to race tendencies when individual variation is always available. Again, this man's study appears to be pure bunk, but there is an answer to the question he asked, and it is a useful question, and we shouldn't be afraid to let someone ask it, or to help them find the answer.
And I don't have time to fully go into it, but in the news out of the UK today was fury over their justice minister Kenneth Clark's on radio comments to a rape victim regarding a plan to give reduced prison terms to those who readily admit they committed rape. I won't get into the meat of the story, but I will mention one curious quote at the end of the article:
When he was quizzed during the show on why rape sentences were on average only five years, Clarke said: "That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds.
"A serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff is much longer than that. I don't think many judges give five years for a forcible rape frankly."
Asked if he thought date rape did not count as a "serious" offence, he said: "Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes but date rapes, in my very old experience of being in trials, they do vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances.
It isn't very well highlighted in this passage, but time and time again I've seen discussions where people toeing the politically correct party line seem to insist that all rape is equal, and I think that reflects a similar refusal to accept that reality is far more complicated and messy. Each case of rape must be examined and the punishment affixed based on the individual crime, but we shouldn't be afraid to speak about overall impact of varying classes and types of crimes. Far from the exercise being futile, it's necessary and vital for appropriately responding to the problem, particularly in a world where problems are often tackled via governmental budgets. Targeting resources at reducing the occurrence of sexual crimes, appropriately allocating resources for their prosecution, and for treating its victims requires a complete understanding of its incidence and impact. Again, we cannot be afraid to ask any question, dive into any subject, and get whatever answers might be there (accepting the answers only after thorough review).
We can improve our reality most efficiently if we acknowledge it.
And one final tangential note... I really struggle to understand our justice system. The notion that you lock someone in a jail complex for a fixed period of time as punishment is so curiously ineffectual. The prisoner is left with his free will in tact, able to wile away his months or years without any serious reflection or self help and then release him as though we assume him to have changed. And of course he rarely has, most often his mind has retained its felonious nature, and he'll find his way to new victims. And these new victims exist because we failed to act to protect them. Why are we releasing anyone who we have very strong reason to suspect retains their criminal mind? If a rapist is likely to rape again (has done little or nothing to demonstrate a radical change in thought/behavior) what on earth are we doing releasing him in 5 years, or 10 years, of 50 years? Our society seems to be stuck in this useless middle ground. We punish but not so much that any real satisfaction is achieved through vengeance, and we provide only very limited resources in prison to rehabilitate because we require free will participation. And at the end of the day we're all worse for it, with a currently incarcerated population approaching 1% of US residents, and people of felonious minds on the outside no doubt being 10x higher. I'm not suggesting we move towards a Chinese-style reeducation camp model... but I can't believe in a world where we bend free will almost to the point of breaking through commercial advertising, and through political and religious indoctrination, that we are in the area of criminals so incredibly impotent.
Why provocative female attire/behavior must correlate to a higher incidence of rape and sexual assault…
Let me make it clear, I am in no way suggesting that provocative attire/behavior is a factor in the vast, vast majority of sexual assault. What I am going to try and argue is that it must logically be a factor in a non-insignificant minority of sexual assault, perhaps assault fitting one or several specific profiles (e.g., late night post bar outing sexual assault by an intoxicated male). While I have no studies to back up what I'm saying, neither can I find any studies backing up the opposing position (that provocative attire/behavior has zero correlation to any kinds of sexual assault). What I have found is lots of groups proclaiming this idea is a misogynistic myth, despite offering no evidence. If those groups claiming it is a myth mean that clothing/behavior is not a factor in most assaults, then obviously they are absolutely right, but that seems a straw man argument; I am unaware of any such claims by even moderately sensible people. Most rapes are committed by someone the person knows, are premeditated, and are driven by things which have nothing whatsoever to do with any factor the victim could reasonably influence. Let me also make clear, a victim is a victim. No victim behavior makes them deserving of assault. The purpose of my discussing this topic is that I am trying to explore what I think is misdirected energy against warning women that their clothing and behavior may elevate their risk for sexual assault (see the my discussion of SlutWalk marches), and that they may wish to take additional precautions as a result when they exercise their absolute right to wear and be as they wish. If you have studies to counter anything I'm saying or have alternative logical arguments, please share them. If I am wrong here I eagerly want to know the errors. I would love nothing more than to believe I am entirely wrong, that would be a far more interesting reality; discovering you are wrong is terribly exciting, as new worlds of understanding open up before you.
Here are the reasons I believe provocative female attire must correlate to a higher incidence of rape. I do not agree that the following is desirable or proper, I am merely stating what my observations have been (detailed explanations follow):
- Male behavior around provocatively dressed females (relative to context) is observed to be markedly different than male behavior towards normally dressed females.
- Aroused humans behave more dangerously than unaroused humans.
- Provocative attire puts females in greater contact with males, with those interactions tending to be less bonding and more sexual in nature.
- Men who look for provocatively dressed women are more dangerous.
- The self-fulfilling prophecy of the provocative behavior/attire myth.
If some things are different, their sum is unlikely to be the same. If we can logically establish that provocative female attire and/or behavior significantly alters male behavior, especially related to sexuality and aggression, then it seems unlikely to imagine there is no impact upon the incidence of sexual assaults committed by men. How much of an impact is probably impossible to logically argue, but with over 230,000 sexual assaults against women in US every year, any impact would be significant.
Male Behavior Around Provocatively Dressed Women
Surely everyone has seen men leering at, approaching, commenting about provocatively dressed women in a way they do not with more normally dressed women. I relate this story elsewhere, but a couple of days ago I'm sitting at a cafe when a stranger next to me, who I’d earlier asked about the wifi password, prods me and says, “Look at that ass.” directing my attention to a provocatively dressed woman passing by. Several hundred women must have passed in the time I’d sat there and he’d said nothing (it’s down the street from a popular bar). Yet he felt comfortable pointing this one woman, and this one feature out to me, a complete stranger, because the woman was dressed that way. I ignored him, because quite frankly I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to say to something like that; I don’t personally think of women on the street in those terms. In the few times I've been to bars or clubs (and even out on the streets) I’ve certainly seen guys behaving as though a woman’s provocative dress was an invitation to be more amorous than I suspect they would if she was dressed less provocatively. I do not agree with this behavior, I do not engage in this behavior, but neither can I deny it exists. If you have observed behavior like this as well, how can you not agree that such social aggression (which moves into the areas of sexual aggression) is more likely to approach and cross over a line of sexual assault than would more staid interactions?
Aroused Humans Behave Differently
Very closely related to the first point, aroused humans behave differently than unaroused humans. Aroused humans are notorious for forgoing condoms and the risk of pregnancy, ignoring the risks of disease, detaching from vows they have made to wives/partners, turning away from the disruption that may result in their family unit (and their relationships with their children), disregarding risk to their job, etc. Many are willing to hurt others (or risk hurting others) for selfish sexual gratification. The vast majority of humans are not amoral pigs and are able to recognize and respect the consent (or lack thereof) of a partner, but clearly some small and hideous minority do not. While rape is not usually driven by a desire for sexual gratification, clearly some rape is, and unaroused males must therefore be safer than aroused males.
Provocative Attire Puts One in Greater Contact with Males
Time and time again I've seen women who dress provocatively get more attention from guys; and by that I mean more attention from more guys, and the attention is of a nature which is more superficial, more sexual, and less likely to create an emotional bond which might discourage some types of male sexual aggression.
On a pure numbers basis, a woman normally dressed sitting alone at the bar is going to get fewer guys interacting with her than were she sitting alone and provocatively dressed. If we assume that some fixed percentage of men are dangerous, more visibility to and interaction with more random men would seem to put one at elevated risk. Every day we queue up in grocery store and bank lines behind people who must occasionally be muggers, rapists, pedophiles, drug dealers, but the slight nature of our interactions afford us protection. The nature of the interactions is key. And I would posit that the nature of the interactions between a provocatively dressed woman and a random man who approached her based on attire is going to be more superficial and less protective than a similar interaction without the provocative attire. While an emotional bond is only protective in some cases, we hear it routinely cited as the reason why some victims of kidnap, rape, and other crimes ultimately survive, because their assailant came to see them not merely as an object.
It's important to note that my take on this could be backwards. It could be that while it might diminish some classes of rapes it might elevate others. Perhaps women would be less likely to be assaulted from these sorts of men and more likely to be by other sorts of men (the types they might meet in more significant contexts and develop more emotional bonds with). I suspect that's not the case, but I can't deny it might be.
Men Who Look for Provocatively Dressed Women are More Dangerous
The men who are attracted to superficial qualities like provocative dress (to the point that they initiate interaction) seem less likely to be currently in, or have been in, significant, emotionally deep relationships. As such, they seem less likely to be empathetic towards women, and more likely to objectify them, ultimately seeing them as a disposable means to an end. I can't shake the feeling that those men pose more of a danger to women statistically than a guy who initiates interaction because of some more significant and instructive quality about her (e.g., the esoteric topic of a book she's reading). I see this focus on more substantive qualities as being a quality more likely found in a well-governed male, one who has chosen (or been genetically/environmentally predisposed) to cast off some of his baser urges.
There is a possibility that the opposite is true, in as much as sexually aggressive males could be less likely to commit sexual assault because they know how easily they can find another woman to engage in sexual relations with. I doubt it, though, since I think the "self-governance" aspect is the key point.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the Provocative Behavior/Attire Myth
The horribly sad fact about humans is, many will do what they think they can get away with. We hear stories of societies all around the world which still (wrongly) believe that provocatively attired/acting women are "fair game" for unwanted sexual advances and assault. If prosecution occur at all the men claim they were provoked and juries far too often agree, leaving the woman further victimized, stigmatized, and sometimes even punished criminally. I find it very hard to imagine that this atmosphere would not greatly encourage some men to sexually assault women, with many specifically targeting women who they and the courts see as "fair game". In South Africa, for example, 25% of men admit to having raped a woman (and half of those to having raped more than one). Even the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was tried for rape. He was acquitted, after his mounting a defense based on her supposedly provoking him by wearing a particular outfit. His "innocence" and the apparent acceptance of his excuse (in the minds of those listening to the abstract of the case, if not the details) surely makes many South African males feel ever more that their monstrous treatment of women is justified, is acceptable, and is unlikely to be punished, so long as they only rape the ones who "deserved it". But the answer to this problem is not to hide from women the fact that many horrible people in South Africa feel safe abusing provocatively dressed/acting women, it is to challenge the ridiculous public and legal notion that such behavior is anything less than evilly felonious, while simultaneously alerting women to the disgusting erroneous views of many of their men.
Imagine your daughter was going to South Africa on a semester abroad from college, wouldn't you want campus police or trip organizers to warn females participating in the program that sexual crimes against their gender is so alarmingly common and that the attitudes of the legal system and the general public likely mean that a shocking number of South African males feel justified in their assault on provocatively dressed/acting women? Would you not want the women to know this and be encouraged to reduce their likelihood of victimization, mentioning ways they could optionally choose to minimize their risk, including modifying their attire, traveling in groups, reducing alcohol intake, carrying mace, etc.? That seems like a reasonable, intelligent response, one likely to protect students while letting them exercise their freedom to choose whatever remedy they wished. But this solution would appear to be one that the supporters of the SlutWalk marches would feel is inappropriate, if I am correctly interpreting their position. And while the United States and Canada are far more advanced on gender and sexual equality than once they were, I'd argue that social attitudes are not so improved that we can claim women here do not deserve a warning not unlike one might give to a daughter heading off to South Africa; numerous jury-related studies prove the point that in the minds of many North Americans provocative attire/behavior is still a partial justification for sexual assault.
The incident that touched off the SlutWalk protests was offensive, the constable who warned women not to dress like sluts made an overly broad statement that implied, or could have been interpreted as supporting, the absurd notion that women had primary control over whether or not they were victimized. But rather than attack one constable's specifically terrible wording the SlutWalk protests seem to promote the idea that women have almost zero ability to alter their risk factors, which simply cannot be true. Some risks are inescapable, other risks could theoretically be reduced but practically speaking shouldn't be if one wants to lead a normal life, but other risks could be reduced without giving up precious freedoms.
Warnings about negative attitudes do not usually aide and abet those negative attitudes. Warning women about the corrupted minds of a minority of men and how they might avoid those situations does not provide safe harbor to those men, nor does it encourage others to become corrupted. Our society warns potential victims about the nature of potential criminals all the time without sanctioning or emboldening those criminals; safety seminars teach people about everything from securing your home, to avoiding internet scams, to safely traversing dark mall parking lots.
What to do about it?
If what I'm suggesting is in fact true then I'm not suggesting the remedy requires suggesting women be encouraged to cover up or stop behaving as they wish. I am simply arguing that we should not be afraid to tell women about the risks as they are, not as we might wish them to be. What is being done now smacks of politically correct censorship to me; we can’t openly discuss this possible risk because some people fear it will be misunderstood by the masses as tacit permission to assault women (rather than as a targeted message to reduce specific correlated assaults). I can't think of any other topic where this sort of logic is argued. Quite to the contrary, society is seen as smart enough to understand the message that we shouldn’t let our young children wander off alone in a mall, without thinking such a warning emboldens pedophiles to abuse our kids. Why then do some insist an advisory to women emboldens abusive males?
The solution to the problem would not necessitate alterations in provocative dress or provocative behavior. For example, advice might sound like the following, "Women who dress or act provocatively are suspected to be victimized somewhat more often than average women. Any additional risk can me eliminated by traveling in pairs and reducing alcohol consumption in those circumstances." Obviously I'm not sure what the real advice might be, that would require study, but something along those lines which makes it clear to women that they can choose their options for reduced risk.
And finally, let me just re-iterate, nothing I've said alters the absolute necessity that we continue educating society and revising legal systems to ensure that everyone well understands that assault of any form against anyone is wrong. I just don't see how we are served by a hypocritical refusal to seriously discuss or at least disprove the correlation between provocative attire/behavior and some sexual assaults.
And if my argument is flawed, please let me know how and why!
During a safety seminar for law students at York University in Toronto, Constable Michael Sanguinetti reportedly said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Outrage ensued and the SlutWalk movement was born. In various cities around the world women are marching to protest any suggestion that a woman's attire or choices can have anything to do with their victimization.
I really struggle to understand how feminism can vociferously refuse to acknowledge the role female victims of rape and sexual assault can play in increasing the likelihood of their victimization. Such an admission would not mean no crime had been committed, nor does it stop the victim from being a victim. It simply acknowledges the undeniable fact that choices we make impact the risks we face, which is the key message of a safety seminar. Constable Sanguinetti's word choice may have been poor, but it's not the words people are upset about, I've seen enough debates about this topic to realize it's the concept that offends, not so much the words.
In every other realm these same SlutWalk participants acknowledge the relationship between victim action and victimization. They surely would acknowledge that leaving a purse unattended on a car's front seat with the windows rolled down is not wise. They surely would acknowledge that wearing flashy jewelry in the worst part of town is not wise. They surely would acknowledge that going to bed with their home's windows open and doors unlocked is not wise. If a crime occurred in any of these other situations a crime was still committed, laws were still broken, rights violated; the victim is still a victim. So why the refusal to acknowledge the victim's potential for altering their risk factor when it comes to dress and behavior?
Women should be able to wear whatever they want wherever they want without being sexually assaulted. Absolutely. Throw anyone in jail who fails to understand this. But just because they can doesn't mean they should, no more than I should walk around the bad streets of my town flashing bling.
Don't doom more people to victimization by discouraging the recognition of the deeply offensive reality within perpetrators everywhere.
Or am I missing something?
P.S. - Some clarifications and further thoughts follow, encouraged by the thoughtful arguments and perspectives of those who commented. I'll include some pieces of my responses to them here:
...Every time I’ve tried to discuss this topic with a friend on the other side they seem to become very upset very quickly, seeming to respond emotionally rather than rationally. While I emotionally understand the strong desire to insist that a victim has no influence on their victimization, it seems logically flawed to start from that premise and attempt to build a logic outwards from it, which seems to be what is done. Blaming an actual victim after the fact is thoroughly reprehensible and wholly unproductive, but that humanitarian prohibition cannot be used as an argument against proactive prevention of victimization.
Victims should never be blamed for being victimized. There is no disagreement here. I reject the idea, though, offered by some that this tendency is in any way peculiar to the crime of rape, or peculiar to women. I’ve been robbed and had people say, “What were you doing living in that part of town?” And you know, statistically they were right. But they were being assholes for saying it. That’s where I could afford to live. And the crime was no less a crime just because of choices I had to make to live. The criminals (had they been caught) were no less guilty of a crime. I’ve got Crohn’s disease, an auto-immune disease of the intestines, and the first thing I’ve heard from many medically uninformed friends and relatives is, “Well, what did you think would happen with your diet (vegetarian, but light on vegetables)?” Anyway, I could go on, and on. It is fundamental to human nature that people want to restore a feeling of security when presented with someone else’s tragedy, and they achieve this by explaining to themselves how that outcome (rape, robbery, illness, etc.) couldn’t happen to them or their loved ones. They (friends, family, police, government, etc.) are assholes saying such things to any victim, and court system rightfully shouldn’t allow in such things as it has no relevance on the crime committed (with possible limited exceptions related to severity of punishment, I am not sure I agree with it, but the punishments our justice system establishes are based on things like premeditation versus crimes of opportunity and victim impact).
I think issues like this one become overly polarized, gender, color of skin, etc. shouldn’t define our response or interpretation. Why can't we take the gender out of it? Isn't that what we're struggling as a society to do? Is it really relevant in this topic, to the point that we alter our logic completely? It seems fair to say that while sex crimes are committed far more against adult females than adult males, in youth the victim gender divide is far less extreme. In absolutely all cases everyone should be able to agree that the children are completely innocent. So let’s imagine instead of women we were talking about children, would all the same empowerment arguments still work? Women should be able to go wherever they like alone, should be able to wear whatever they like, should be able to be anywhere at any hour, and should be able to associated with whoever they like. They have an absolute legal right to do all those things (as men do). Similarly, children should be able to roam anywhere within their neighborhoods they like, alone, without being assaulted or abducted, they should be allowed to wear whatever they like without being an object of a perverted individual’s lusts, they should be able to stay out until dark without the cover of night becoming an invitation to a crime, and they should be able to hang out with older children or adults without being taken advantage of or sexually groomed. But find me any parent who wants their child to exercise those rights, let alone one who wants to participate in a parade denouncing these basic precautionary tenets. Women are not children, obviously, but I’m not sure how that makes the advice any less valid. We all remain vulnerable, of whatever gender. There are tons of places in my city I shouldn’t walk, and things I shouldn’t wear (e.g., bling) or carry (e.g., laptop) in other neighborhoods. Is the solution for me to flaunt these common sense rules and exercise my rights anyway? I could, but it seems rather self defeating. And if I do the very first thing people might say to me would be, “What were you doing walking through that part of town with your laptop?” And if they do they are assholes, whether or not statistics back them up.
Rape is evil. I just hate that the message SlutWalk telegraphs is not that rape is evil but that modifying your behavior to reduce your odds of being victimized is anti-woman. Even if attire/behavior were shown to be a risk factor for assault this doesn't mean women can't freely choose to exercise these rights, and if they chose they could always offset additional risk factors by taking additional precautions. Why can't we discuss this topic and prove or disprove the correlation, instead of just declaring it a myth without any solid proof, that I can find, and plenty of logic to suggest otherwise. (I argue my version of that logic in this post about how provocative clothing/behavior must correlate to higher incidence of sexual assault.) I certainly applaud all efforts to educate salvageable men and court systems about proper views of women. I just don’t want more people victimized, and certainly not to have the problem made worse by the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that certain horrible men have fixed ideas.
Some discussions I've had with people on this topic have surprised me by seeming to imply that people who suspect a correlation between attire/behavior and sexual assault mean that all sexual assaults result from that attire/behavior. And, aside from some monstrous news stories coming out of third-world countries, I've never heard that simplistic argument being expressed or that view held. If there is a correlation between sexual assault and victim attire/behavior it is slight. The vast, vast majority of sexual assaults are committed without any regard to any such things. But just because it is much, much less significant doesn't mean it is not significant to those women whose assaults might have been avoided if there was a risk and we educated them about it so they could make more informed decisions.
The politically correct party line seems to be that:
- No suggestion of association between dress/behavior and likelihood of becoming a victim can ever be made because it erodes the legal status/protections of victims
- No suggestion of association between dress/behavior and likelihood of becoming a victim can ever be made because it erodes the personal choice freedoms of women
I disagree with these as I see neither necessarily being harmed by allowing women to be made aware of the specific risks that might be associated with these situations/assaulters.
On the first point, I do not see that such an erosion must occur. In every other area of law the courts are able to recognize that someone making a crime more likely to occur does not mean they were not victimized. Someone forgetting to lock their car does not mean they gave tacit permission to a thief to reach in and steal their laptop; the criminal if caught is still arrested and prosecuted. While the courts have behaved monstrously in the past regarding rape (and still do in many places in the world) they have improved considerably and are continuing to do so. I do not believe that their continued improvement requires women refuse to acknowledge the corrupted, disgusting, evil preferences of rapists.
On the second point, I do not see that the mere recommendation regarding modification of one’s attire is an attack on women’s rights. Each gender is subjected to various social, cultural, religious, and safety rules related to dress, and we are (varyingly) free to flaunt them all. It would be recommended that I not wear bling in a bad neighborhood. It would be recommended that I not wear gang colors in some neighborhoods. It would be recommended that I not carry a laptop bag in some neighborhoods. I could flaunt these or other rules, and sometimes may intentionally and unintentionally. But if someone wants to point them out to me in an effort to help make me aware of my increased level of danger, I don’t see harm in that. And let me make clear I am not suggesting women should ever be told, “Do not wear short skirts.” But it would seem not unreasonable to me if a college safety class for example said, “Wearing a short skirt may put you at greater risk under certain circumstances, you may wish to modify your behavior in those cases and walk with friends, wear a long coat, or otherwise exercise additional precautions.” It would be similar to how someone might advise me to cover up a fancy watch by rolling down my sleeves, put my laptop inside a non-laptop bag, etc.
But I find it difficult, without proof to the contrary, to disbelieve that the odds of a certain type of opportunistic rape occurring by a certain kind of rapist is not potentially altered by victim attire. I have searched the interwebs numerous times and found nothing substantial. I’ve found lots of studies related to jury impressions/perceptions, to victim impact, to case outcomes, but nothing that says anything like, “In a study of 10,000 rapes it was found that rapists used clothing as a selection criteria in 0 cases.” Obviously a study would come to a far more scientific conclusion, but I could find nothing to sink my teeth into, just lots of studies about how people believed this myth, but nothing saying, here is proof that this is a myth. The best I can find is responses similar to yours which say most rapes are committed by people known to them, most rapes are not about sex, most rapes are… And I understand all that, but I am trying to understand if dress has an impact in any rapes. Obviously if it has an impact in 1 in 100 rapes that is useful to know.
Now the reason I find it hard to believe a “normally” dressed woman has a slightly higher chance of being unassaulted is because of my own casual, disgusted observation of men. Men (though it is entirely and completely wrong) do react differently to a woman who is dressed conservatively versus provocatively. You see this everywhere. Here’s a stupid minor example, I was just somewhere two nights ago sitting outside at a cafe when a stranger next to me, who I’d earlier asked about the wifi password, prods me and says, “Look at that ass.” directing my attention to a provocatively dressed woman passing by. Several hundred women must have passed in the time I’d sat there and he’d said nothing (it’s down the street from a popular bar). Yet he felt comfortable pointing this one woman, and this one feature out to me, a complete stranger, because the woman was dressed that way. I ignored him, because quite frankly I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to say to something like that; I don’t personally think of women on the street in those terms. I’ve certainly seen drunk guys in clubs/bars behaving as though a woman’s provocative dress was an invitation to be more amorous than I suspect they would if she was dressed “normally”. Given all this, I find it incredibly hard to believe, without proof and probably even a little with weak proof, that the likelihood of some class of rape (e.g., opportunistic, post bar/club, with neanderthal intoxicated male) is not impacted at all by provocative attire. It would be a vastly more interesting reality, I would like what you say to be true, to imagine that men could seem cruder to women dressed provocatively, could seem more amorous with them, could seem more aggressive with them, and yet were no less observant of sexual permission boundaries; that would be far more fascinating.
I have no fondness for Julian Assange. I suspect (based on little but what's come across of his personality) that he's motivated more by celebrity and a desire to be relevant than by absolute moral conviction. I find it terribly ironic that he (or anyone on his side) express outrage that the detailed reports related to the interviews of him and the women involved were leaked; turnabout being fair play and all. Nonetheless, with the details that have come out thus far related to the allegations against him I find it hard it very hard to take the victims, and thus his prosecution, seriously. To suggest his actions approach what anyone would reasonably consider rape or molestation seems to greatly erode the horrendous outrage we should feel when we hear those words. He's an asshole, he's a cad, and he's likely a lousy lover, but beyond recognizing those things publicly I'm not sure what we can expect the law to do after the fact when these women did so little to vet him prior to bedding him.
Here are a few observations which I haven't seen discussed in the popular media:
Observation #1:Condoms Aren't Fool Proof
The primary crime Julian Assange appears to have committed in the eyes of Swedish law enforcement is that he did not wear a condom though the women had requested and expected it. The specifics appear to be that with one woman a condom failed and they apparently continued with consensual sex anyway; she suspects he induced the condom failure. And with the other woman she awoke to them having sex without a condom. While I certainly believe each party in a sexual encounter can set rules for their participation, I think some of my otherwise absolute support for this as a black and white matter is lost when I remember that condoms are nowhere near 100% effective, making the purpose of the women's stipulations very potentially moot.
Condoms do not protect you from all STDs therefore it is illogical to act or encourage the law to act as though they do. The women in this case could have required Julian Assange (JA) to get STD testing before they engaged in sex with him, if they were so concerned about STDs. But, they did not. Their sole concern as it relates to condom usage appears to be STDs, not pregnancy (no mention has been made of pregnancy concerns and surely it would have been were they not on some form of reliable hormonal birth control). Too many people seem unaware that while condoms are highly effective in preventing STDs related to seminal discharge (notably HIV, bacterial infections, etc.), they provide relatively little protection against other STDs such as HPV (genital warts or cancer causing strains) and herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2). Little discussed is the fact that condoms "mechanically" fail 5% of the time they are used, through slippage and breakage (see article), and in those moments of failure provide no protection at all. Have sex four or five times over a couple days, as could easily have happened in the JA case, and the odds are 20-25% that one of the condoms would fail. The women would have been accepting that failure rate and its consequences; they were either in knowledge or ignorance acting as though they were perfectly fine accepting the risks of certain STDs, but not fine accepting the risks of others.
The women accepted a significant risk that the condom would fail, they accepted a significant risk that a condom would not protect them from HPV (which could lead to cancer), they accepted a significant risk that they could get herpes, and so their entire position seems to rest on their unwillingness to accept the risk they might acquire HIV from unprotected sex with JA (ignoring the not insignificant possibility that the condom could fail and make their act unprotected regardless of anyone's intent).
But how likely were they to acquire HIV from unprotected sex with JA of unknown HIV status? This is important because if the likelihood was very, very high then few would support the soundness of these women deciding to have sex with him when his HIV status was unknown, regardless of condom usage (because condoms fail). And if the likelihood was very, very low then JA using a condom becomes an utterly moot point, and not something the law should be used to enforce (no more than if he had violated an agreement before sex to wear a party hat on his head throughout). There would seem a very narrow prosecutable range for probabilities where the law would seem an appropriate remedy.
The reality is that Julian Assange, though he appears to be a tremendous man-whore, remains (by all accounts) rather unlikely to have HIV. JA is not known to be gay, bisexual, IV an drug user, or a hemophiliac. While his heterosexual promiscuity in the Western world elevates his risk I can find no definition of high risk group in the HIV context which would actually include him. The risk JA presented was therefore vanishingly small, even through several unprotected sex acts:
...the odds of a heterosexual becoming infected with AIDS after one episode of penile-vaginal intercourse with someone in a non-high-risk group without a condom are one in 5 million. ... with a member of a high-risk group, e.g., a gay or bisexual male or IV drug user from a major metro area, or a hemophiliac ... [the] chances of getting AIDS from one such encounter range as high as ... 1 in 1,000 unprotected. - From The Straight Dope
Allowing for several sex events, and for JA's first world heterosexual whore-ishness, JA has therefore been arrested and is being prosecuted for a threat of HIV he posed these women which was something on the order of one in many hundreds of thousands. That minuscule degree of threat he posed is the what the law is effectively seeking to prosecute. The truth is, of course, that prosecutors are trying to make the statement: Women (in this case) can make stipulations in a sex contract which cannot be violated by men without serious legal penalty. But that premise is flawed because it requires that this stipulation be major, because minor stipulations are violated constantly in all forms of interpersonal contracts without any penalty. An example of which is: A couple has been together for years. One afternoon they have sex. Half an hour later the man mentions that he had received and responded to a harmless, friendly e-mail from an old flame. The woman is outraged because she had made previously made quite a point that he was not to contact any ex-girlfriends. Had she known he had responded earlier that day they surely would not have had sex that afternoon. Did this man effectively rape her by having withheld (intentionally or unintentionally) information which may have caused her to refuse sex on that occasion? Whatever the temporarily heightened emotion involved for both parties, I am confident the courts would not elect to intervene over such a "minor" stipulation in this particular sex contract. But in the case of JA, where the probability of actual threat is one in many hundreds of thousands, where the women have demonstrated the acceptance of risk associated with condom failure, with HPV (and the potential for cancer), with herpes (and the potential for social stigma), the legal system chose to prosecute. The law does no one any favors when it is used without reason, to prosecute on whims, to prosecute feelings, bad science, or false perceptions.
I think Julian Assange is an uncaring and unconcerned lover, a rotten human being, and no one I'd want my sister to end up in bed with, but selectively prosecuting him for selectively chosen (and vanishingly small) risks helps no one take responsibility for their actions, before or during these incidents. Responsibilities in sex are to be shared, among both women and men. Condoms are not safe, merely safer; and sex is therefore inherently risky. You cannot hide your responsibilities behind reliance on false and misleading comforts; and you cannot choose to prosecute as a result.
If there is any good that comes out of this it is that all women have fair warning about JA, and I hope they do listen because he seems just the sort of man who will likely not alter his behavior one iota; and not because I think he is likely to spread HIV, but because of all the other diseases he may carry and spread, condom or no.
In none of the reports I've seen has it been made clear that either woman in the case said clearly communicated a "No!" to him. There's mention of one woman being partly undressed by him then partly redressing only to have him undress her again. She then proceeded to assent and have sex with him, continued to let him stay with her in her home for days, etc. In this context, with this being one-night-stand-ish intimacy, with him being a "celebrity" of sorts, it is hard to see this as a rape or molestation in any reasonable sense. Surely there are horrific situations in which humans can be psychologically manipulated by captors and such to behave in ways which seem illogical (e.g., Stockholm Syndrome, or abused individuals being afraid to flee or alert others). And there are also monstrous acts of date rape occurring every minute of every day. But if JA is prosecuted for this then surely there should be prosecutions lodged against almost every popular and unpopular rock band in the world, because surely many young groupies also find elements of regret and anxiety after making staggeringly poor choices and participating in sexual situations which mimic this JA situation. Sex is hideously complicated, and most people's sex lives include numerous seemingly unavoidable mistakes in judgment that no country's criminal codes will ever eradicate. The best the law can do is create rules that are clear, instructive, and are ready to be used with equal efficiency against all who would disobey them.
There has always been, and arguably always will be, a push-pull dynamic involving men being the sexually aggressive partner, pushing the woman's limits. It is a dynamic which, like it or not, appears to be enforced and encouraged by both men and women. Clearly "No means no."; clearly there are very real and absolutely unquestionable limits, but unless force or strong mental coercion occurs it's dangerous to assume JA's twice removing a woman's shirt aggressively is outside the bounds of generally accepted sexual aggression, or that it signals a clear "NO!" from her.
One other point that was made related to JA's initiation of sex while his partner was sleeping or just waking up. This an interesting issue, because sex clearly must be consensual. But there surely is often implied consent. Couples routinely have sex when one or both members is at a diminished capacity. Perhaps one or both partners is sleepy, drunk, high, or it is early in the morning and one party begins to "sex up" the other party. This goes on all the time, and I find it hard to believe there is anything fundamentally immoral or wrong about it, presuming there is significant reason to believe the other party would and does want it. I am no expert in the etiquette of promiscuity, so I am not clear what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate for those who would have sex within a few days of knowing each other. It seems to me a person's willingness to immediately have sex with someone they barely know suggests on their part some level of openness to advanced/accelerated intimacy, and thus I find it hard to argue that he should have known he cannot grope or initiate sex with his sleeping lover as seems to have been suggested here. And if he was supposed to know this, what would be the mechanism by which this would be communicated/inferred? Is it acceptable on the third morning they are together? The tenth? Do they need to have a conversation about it? I cannot imagine this issue is so clear that a prosecution case could be built upon it.
Observation #3: Post Hoc Reasoning
Neither woman appeared to have had any intention of prosecuting the matter until they discovered they had both been sexual with him in an overlapping time-frame, and that he had behaved similarly both times (refusing to wear a condom and having sex, by accident or intention, without a condom). Both had separately intended to continue a friendship/relationship with him at least until they discovered their mutual sexual experience with him. Reports suggest that neither would have prosecuted him had he not refused to get the STD testing they requested after their sexual liaison, that was supposedly their intent in going to the police, to learn how to get him to comply with their request. One would hope that these women would have been able to independently decide that his behavior was so egregious that it warranted an accusation or rape or molestation, that they would have seen fit to immediately cut off their relationships with him, that they would not have been willing to settle for an STD test. While I understand that date rape is very real we surely must find some better distinguishing characteristics to separate prosecutable date rape from icky, scorn-worthy date pushiness. JA's behavior and the women's responses does not sound to me as though the incidents rose to anything a majority would say could be described as rape or molestation.
Julian Assange deserves karma's penalty, not a criminal one, for the sexual incidents that have been revealed. The law was not meant to be used against people through selective prosecution. The coverage in the press may be the karmic revenge he deserves, may curb his wanton ways.
My view is my own, and it is fluid. I may not have adequately considered some very salient points that only someone who has been confronted with the experience of coercive sex can share. My frustration is that too often when people attempt to discuss these complicated topics, so that we might attempt to reach a general understanding which can be the basis of new law or new social understandings between the sexes, things devolve into an emotionally charged conflict of wills not rights. We cannot afford to be politically correct, we must be correct. We cannot afford to be overly emotional when it comes time to reasoning out solutions. Just as authors and playwrights request our "Willing suspension of disbelief." when we observe the worlds they create, I wish it were possible for all people to achieve a "Willing suspension of opposition animus." The opposing side is rarely so wrong as we believe them to be. Their house is as solid as ours, and built upon the same foundation as ours, but somewhere between its foundation and its roof there are differences in the supporting members that we can more calmly explore. It is those structural elements we must explore to settle ourselves into true and relaxed comfort in our own position; and more often than we'd like, it is in that analysis we find the need to modify our own positions to correct for defects, to move both parties closer to common understanding.